It seemed like a natural forum for politicking last night, but three names mentioned for the 1980 GOP presidential nomination-all at the same party last night-said they were there mainly for socializing.

"I honestly haven't had time to think about it," said former President Gerald Ford at the dinner given by the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (often describedf as a conservative research institute) to honor Arthur Burns, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. "I've been so busy campaigning for other people and working on my book which is coming out in June . . . I haven't ruled it out and I haven't ruled it in."

Former CIA director George Bush was a little more direct when asked about his aspirations for that GOP nomination. "I'm giving it a lot of thought. It needs time." But Bush said he wouldn't be talking to Ford about it at the party. "No, there won't be time," he said.

Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee had the same story, more or less. "There's nothing more fundamental in politics than doing the things you have to do first," he said. "First I have to get myself reelected minority leader. I feel good about that. Then I have to make sure I have an agenda. The Senate comes first. I'm staking other people to a big head start, but my first responsibility is in the Senate."

But one party guest at the Washington Hilton found the entire configuration of people rather amusing. "Here are all these guys with aspirations of running for the presidency," he said, "and as soon as you get these guys in a room they all start shaking hands." He laughed. "It's murder."

William Baroody Jr. the AEI president (he took over from his father this summer), said those invited to last night's party included a mix of people, not just Republicans but Democrats and Independents, involved in public policy. "i'd like to be a little fly around the tables of the ballroom," Baroody said. "There're going to be some interesting discussions."

The party did bring together Energy secretary James Schlesinger, and Ford, who fired Schlesinger as Defense secretary in 1975.

Scvlesinger, who said he was there because he was an "old friend" of Arthur Burns, said he had not spoken to Ford lately. After a brief chat, Schlesinger said he and Ford had talked about energy matters, among other things.

Accompanying Ford was his wife Betty, who was told by everyone she greeted how great she looked. How many times had she been asked if her husband was interested in the presidency? "I've been very fortunate. No one's asked me that question today," she said. "I've just been talking with people about their families and catching up on children." CAPTION: Picture, Chief Justice and Mrs. Warren Burger with Gerald Ford, right, by Margaret Thomas-The Washington Post